Kids get help
Metro Detroit schools develop programs to prevent abuse and
by Julio Ochoa, Detroit News, August 20, 2001
For more articles like this
Like other kids her age, Jamie Artman was bullied in middle
school for no reason. One day, a group of boys picked her out of
a crowd because she was wearing a necklace with a star pendant.
"They started calling me a witch, and they wouldn't leave me
alone," said Artman, 14. "They just kept on pushing and pushing
until they thought I would crack."
But she didn't crack because she believed in herself and was
part of a program called Students Taking A New Direction
(STAND), which helps kids build self-esteem and confidence to
Starting this fall, other schools across Metro Detroit may start
programs like STAND as they add anti-bullying guidelines to
their codes for student conduct. Administrators at districts
such as Clintondale in Macomb County and Berkley and Avondale in
Oakland County will develop programs they hope will prevent
physical, emotional and verbal abuse and create safe and
fear-free environments in their classrooms.
The state, through its new policy on bullying, is asking all
Michigan school districts to develop their own plans to deal
with the problem. The state Board of Education drafted its
policy after increased incidents of school violence around the
state and nation. Many of these incidents were the result of
bullying, said Michael Warren, the board's secretary.
"It is an awesome decision because it will enable more kids to
get more confidence in themselves and more self-esteem," Artman
said. "Then, they will stick up for themselves and realize that
they don't have to let bullying happen."
Nearly one in seven school children is a bully or victim, and
the problem affects more than 5 million students across the
United States, according to a 1999 survey by the National
Association of School Psychologists.
Bullying or teasing is usually involved when school violence
erupts, experts say.
In March, when a ninth-grader at Santana High School near San
Diego shot and killed two students and wounded 13 others,
classmates said he was often picked on. A similar story was
heard after two Columbine students in Colorado gunned down 12
classmates and a teacher in 1999.
Closer to home, Tempest Smith, a 12-year-old student at Lincoln
Park Middle School, hung herself in February after enduring
constant ridicule from her classmates because of her belief in
Wicca, a pagan religion.
That suicide is one more example of violence that could have
been avoided if programs that prevent bullying were in place,
Districts such as Royal Oak, Fraser and Berkley say they
will enact changes in their student codes of conduct when their
policy committees meet in the fall.
"It is a good start," said Justin Fawcett, 17, a recent graduate
of Andover High School, who often saw bullies pick on and make
fun of his classmates. "If they have a good program that is
dedicated to stopping the intimidation, then it might help. But
they have to cover all the angles."
Most districts have ways to punish harassment, but no programs
to prevent it.
For example, the Clintondale Community Schools student handbook
says that students who physically or verbally assault classmates
could be suspended up to 180 days.
But punishing the behavior is not enough to solve the problem,
"If you deal with just the victims or just the bullies, you
change nothing," said Dr. Sherryll Kraizer, executive director
of the Coalition for Children and author of the "Take a Stand"
bully-prevention program. "That has been the traditional
approach, but we know more now."
Kraizer travels to schools across the nation training students,
teachers and administrators how to make bullying unacceptable.
Her approach doesn't focus on the bully or the victim, but on
the children in the middle who have the best social skills and
can change the social climate.
"These kids use peer pressure to create a community of
intolerance to bullying," Kraizer said. "This program increases
self esteem and confidence in everybody, and the bullying
behavior is reduced."
Concepts in action
At Dearborn Public Schools, members of STAND have seen these
concepts in action.
Artman said she has a friend who was picked on so much that he
was contemplating suicide before he joined STAND.
"I noticed that through STAND and his friends talking to him, he
got stronger," Artman said. "If we saw him in the halls getting
teased, we would stand up for him -- and they would stop. By the
end of the semester, he was more alive and having more fun with
The group just completed a summer program in which 72 children
from grades five to eight went on field trips and worked through
a curriculum based on teaching acceptance, self worth,
camaraderie and diversity.
"We don't want kids to just tolerate each other. We want them to
embrace their differences," said Christine Rosbury, a group
leader in the summer STAND program. "Often, kids that get
bullied get low self-esteem because they are different. We are
trying to teach them that difference is good."
In the fall, the students will spread out into the district's
five middle schools and become ambassadors for the program,
raising awareness about bullying and teasing.
Starting in September, STAND will begin a district-wide program
called The Golden Rule, which asks students to treat their
neighbors the way they would want to be treated.
At the high school level, STAND plans to introduce a curriculum
called Don't Laugh at Me. Through activities and role-playing,
students learn to deal with physical and mental intimidation.
District fights bullying
Farmington Public Schools is also attacking bullies head on.
The district brings in leaders from city government, law
enforcement, emergency response, mental health, businesses,
courts and the media to create a climate where academic success
is combined with a sense of belonging and connectedness to other
"We feel that no curriculum in the world is going to aid a child
in learning if that child doesn't feel safe and connected in the
community," said Estralee Michaelson, director of the Safe
Schools program and student services at the district.
In each of its elementary schools, the district has a full-time
employee who supports and counsels students, helping them
understand the pain and humiliation that can be caused by
Problems that arise can be solved through a conflict-resolution
program that involves students. During a typical session, two
students playing the role of mediators will sit down with the
students in conflict and find a way for them to agree to stop
The kids will listen to each others' side of the story and
address why they feel the way they do. The problem is resolved
with rules and consequences, such as suspension and parent
Conflict resolution is also woven into lessons on English and
history. Teachers use examples of the Holocaust, slavery and war
to show how extreme forms of bullying are wrong.
Administrators and teachers say they are starting to see
improvements in student attitudes, Michaelson said.
"One of the themes we're starting to permeate is hug more, love
daily because you got to get that passion out there. We believe
passion empowers change."
How to deal with bullies
If your child is a victim of a bully, here are ways to deal
with the problem:
* Teach your children at a young age to stay away from others
who exhibit bullying behavior.
* Teach your children to be assertive but not aggressive or
violent when approached by a bully. Tell them to walk away and
get help from an adult in dangerous situations.
* Teach your children never to use a gun or other weapon to
defend themselves from bullies.
* Pay attention to symptoms that your child may be a victim of
bullying, including withdrawal, sudden lack of interest in
school, a drop in grades and signs of physical abuse.
* If your child is bullied at school, tell school officials
immediately. Keep written records of the names, dates, times and
circumstances of the incidents and give a copy to the principal.
Source: National Parent-Teacher Association
About the policy
The Michigan State Board of Education is asking all school
districts to develop a strategy to prevent bullying for their
school-safety plans. The board recommends that anti-bullying
* Supervise students.
* Encourage students to be involved in the programs by asking
and listening to them.
* Educate teachers and other staff members on the nature and
seriousness of bullying on a student's physical, emotional and
* Teach teachers and other staff members how to effectively
intervene when bullying occurs.
* Provide individualized interventions with bullies and victims.
* Advocate meaningful communication between teachers and